Iron curtain for camp brothers: what is left in the minds of people after the collapse

Iron curtain for camp brothers: what is left in the minds of people after the collapse

Iron curtain for camp brothers: what is left in the minds of people after the collapse

7 November, 10:08
The book of the Belarusian journalist Inessa Pleskachevskaya “Brothers in the camp. Where did Eastern Europe go? (Rostov-on-Don: "Phoenix". 2022. Photo by M. Penyevsky) - it's a unique story not even about what has changed in the life of Eastern Europe in thirty years.

It's about what has changed in the minds of its citizens. Or has it not changed...


Inessa Pleskachevskaya guessed about this last one: “This project was born when I read the news that deer in the Czech national park Sumava do not go behind the iron curtain - the border with Germany, although it disappeared more than a quarter of a century ago. The deer that lived at that time are no longer there, but their descendants do not cross the border. Scientists say: the behavior pattern is fixed at the genetic level, and the iron curtain is alive in the mind. It seems to me, not only in deer.

And the conversations that she had for five years with many different people in Bulgaria, Hungary, Germany (its eastern part - the former GDR), Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania are evidence of this. What goes on in their minds is amazing. Moreover, Inessa Pleskachevskaya talked with people so different in their views, social status, and simply in age - from the last tsar and Prime Minister of Bulgaria Simeon of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha or the legendary leader of Solidarity and the first president of democratic Poland Lech Walesa to employees of a small an East German firm and a Hungarian rock musician - that the range of opinions is more than wide. And yet there is something that unites all these opinions ... Oddly enough, this unifying principle is best characterized by the famous monologue of Agafya Tikhonovna from Gogol's "Marriage":

“If Nikanor Ivanovich’s lips were to be put to Ivan Kuzmich’s nose, and take some swagger, which Baltazar Baltazarych has, and, perhaps, add Ivan Pavlovich’s corpulence to this ...” That it is impossible to artificially create a living person who bizarrely combines the incompatible , and therefore ideally meeting completely opposite requirements, it seems that not many people understand.

Here is a simple East German woman explaining her dissatisfaction with the unification of Germany: “My mother was a Russian teacher, she was still working. But after the unification, this specialty was not very popular, and at the age of 50 she had to study again. She has been a teacher for 30 years, and now she is studying again, taking exams, well, this is humiliating”.

And it is useless to explain to her that this is how the world works, in which a person can create a decent life for himself. That is, of course, she likes a decent life, but at the same time, let her work as usual from her youth, regardless of whether your specialty is in demand.

And it would be nice if a simple woman showed such off-scale infantilism. The same echoes (at least echoes!) flicker in the monologues of almost every significant politician and entrepreneur from the former socialist camp, who undertakes to analyze “it was - it became”. Whether we are talking about bell peppers, Hungarian wine, or GDR school education, everything is the same: what was good had to be preserved. To the question of how it was necessary to do this, who was to pay for the safety of what people find beautiful, but for which they do not want to pay out of their own pocket, there is no answer. People grow up very hard, with great internal resistance. This is understandable - the adult world is complex, sometimes simply chaotic, but you want simple rules, and it is difficult to realize that, for all its attractiveness, simplicity as a way of living arrangements has one significant drawback: it is not viable.

And, of course, the past grabs you by the legs so that you literally have to tear yourself out of it, and this process is painful both for those who produce it and for those around you. It was not easy for Inessa Pleskachevskaya to talk to Lukasz Kaminski, president of the Polish Institute of National Remembrance, the Commission for Investigating Crimes Against the Polish Nation. Her husband's nineteen-year-old father once liberated Warsaw from the Nazis as part of the Soviet troops, and Kaminski says about this:

“There was no liberation of Warsaw. There was the Warsaw Uprising, and the Red Army waited two months, giving the Germans the opportunity to kill 200,000 Poles.

— This is the Polish point of view.

— There was no Warsaw. There were ruins, because after this uprising the Germans had a couple more months to destroy the city”.

And even Adam Michnik, the great Polish journalist and dissident, who calls himself an “anti-Soviet Russophile”, agrees with him on this, adding, however, significant, especially considering that, for example, the Holocaust in Poland was:

“Many people in Poland are convinced that by nature we cannot be guilty, we have never done anything wrong to others, we have only sacrificed ourselves. I have repeatedly said that you need to tell the truth about your story. This gives dignity to the nation, shows that we are not afraid of the truth, we perceive it as adults”.

In general, of all the numerous and diverse interlocutors of Inessa Pleskachevskaya, the Polish Belarusian artist Leon Tarasevich most accurately explained the peculiarity of people's consciousness in the countries of the former socialist camp:

“Often it happens, you understand that a person remembers only the best things. Doesn't remember the bad guys. And that time, communist, gave such security that you did not need to think about yourself. You could drink for three days, not get sober for a week, and you could live. It was, you know, a diversion. Communism was a diversion against civilization. I speak as the heir to the town, which was called "red". I know communism, and blood was shed in the family for communism too. Communism gives the illusion of security. Western civilization has an engine that has had this expansiveness and code since Roman times. Only this Western world has won. Although he has good things and bad things. I first visited America in 1987. So when I left, I didn’t want it to come to us quickly. Because I also saw the negative things that the West brought with it with its selfishness and money. And people would like to live as they do now, but that there was that world. And that doesn't happen".

Brothers in the camp. Where did Eastern Europe go?” seems to be the first and only book in which post-socialist politics and mentality are so widely represented in an inseparable unity. The author writes that she entered this project with one perception of the situation, and left with another. And yet - not with a radically different one:

“I met with politicians - from the communists and the left to the very right, I spoke with the stars, millionaires, teachers, pensioners and entrepreneurs. And gradually, gradually, a picture of their changing world took shape in my head. Some cursed the socialist past, others wept for its loss. People who grew up under socialism shook their heads sadly: we are stupid, we have lost so much, we have carried out transformations so unreasonably, it could have been done differently. People born after 1989 look at the world with very different eyes. I often remember how in the very late 1980s and early 1990s, when the USSR was still alive, but we had already ceased to be proud of its history, I saw two crying women. They watched a documentary on TV exposing the Brezhnev stagnation and wept, wondering, “What have we wasted our lives on?” Until that moment, they were sure that they lived a correct, bright and happy life, but it turned out that much of what they believed in was a lie. It was difficult for them to come to terms with this thought. I know that there are many people in the world who still find it difficult to come to terms with this idea. But I don't belong to them".

This is the look of a person who is not ready to put up with a lie, but is ready to understand a variety of people, and this important and large-scale book by Inessa Pleskachevskaya is permeated.

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